WASHINGTON — Justice Neil Gorsuch addressed a conservative group at the Trump International Hotel on Thursday, drawing protests and criticism for speaking at a venue that is the subject of several lawsuits against the president.
In his remarks, Gorsuch called for civility in debates over public controversies. On the one hand, he said, the First Amendment guarantees that “Americans can say pretty much anything they want for more or less any reason they want more or less anytime they want.
“But with every right comes a correlative responsibility,” he said. “And to be worthy of our First Amendment freedoms, we have to all adopt certain civil habits that enable others to enjoy them as well. When it comes to the First Amendment, that means tolerate those who don’t agree with us or those whose ideas upset us, giving others the benefit of the doubt about their motives.”
Some experts in legal ethics and many liberal groups questioned the wisdom and prudence of Gorsuch’s decision to speak at the hotel.
Several lawsuits are challenging the constitutionality of foreign payments to companies controlled by President Trump.
“It’s disappointing that Justice Gorsuch agreed to speak at President Trump’s hotel, when Trump’s failure to adequately divest his hotels and other assets creates unconstitutional conflicts of interest that could very well end up before the court,” said Elizabeth Wydra, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, which represents lawmakers suing Trump.
“Justice Gorsuch told the Senate during his confirmation that he was committed to the independence and integrity of the judiciary,” Wydra said, “but the decision to speak at an event that profits the president sadly falls far short of that standard.”
Trump appointed Gorsuch to fill the vacancy created by the death last year of Justice Antonin Scalia.
Senate Republicans refused to consider President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick B. Garland, leaving the seat empty for more than a year.
Gorsuch’s remarks Thursday, which also touched on constitutional history and the work of the Supreme Court, were the keynote address of a lunch to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Fund for American Studies, which says it supports “principles of limited government, free-market economics, and honorable leadership” through academic and fellowship programs.